Reliving the Childhood through a Comparative Lens
Sixteen students from four countries were the curators for the “Compare: Images of Childhood” exhibition at Beloit College’s Wright Museum of Arts in fall 2019. Primarily drawing upon the photo album “Dear Old days (or Hello Little Friends)” about Chinese children in the 1980s by the Japanese photographer Ryoji Akiyama, our students examined the familiar yet complex childhood experiences with regards to learning, expectations and happiness.
Being an education major/minor at Beloit College is more than learning how to teach. During Fall 2019, students enrolled in the Education and Youth studies class EDYS 276 “East Meets West” had an opportunity to learn more about childhood from a comparative and international perspective through photos of children and Childhood in China and elsewhere by photographers such as Ryoji Akiyama. Students chose images that touched them most, thoroughly studied their historical, social and cultural contexts, grouped the photos in pairs, and wrote a description about friendship, happiness, self expression and creativity, and beyond in order to examine common emotions and experiences of children. Using the following themes: 1) Expectations of Childhood; 2) The Joy and Magic of Childhood; 3) Modernity and Tradition; and 4) Environments for Learning; the exhibit analyzed Akiyama’s work through the human experience of childhood comparatively using the book coupled with some use of outside sources. This collection served as a window into the holistic and varied image of childhood in a nuanced way, by looking primarily to the “Eastern” context while having the “Western” context in the reference. Drawing upon educational theories and frameworks underpinning this vast array of childhood life, the exhibition engaged the audience into an open dialogue about childhood in the East and West while reflecting upon their own childhood experiences and memories. In the end, the exhibition Compare: Images of Childhood aimed to convey a message that is “while children are faced with many challenges, they still find joy and magic in both the big and small of life.”